By Simona Tarpova, Student at the American University in Bulgaria. firstname.lastname@example.org
As a student who double-majors in Political Science and International Relations as well as European Studies I am interested in the comparative political context of countries and factors that influence international affairs. I believe that the upcoming elections for the European Parliament could serve as an example of how national level politics could influence supranational institutions and change the EU agenda.
Euro-sceptic movements establishing strong position on national level
An important aspect that could influence the outcomes of the EP elections is the raising popularity of anti-establishment movements on national level aimed at the promotion of nationalistic rhetoric, xenophobia and anti-globalism. As these newly emerged entities successfully managed to popularize Euro-sceptic attitude amongst EU citizens, they now aim an influential position in the European Parliament.
Europa.eu’s projections show that far right political groups within the European Parliament will gain more seats in the upcoming elections, with the Europe of Nations and Freedom winning 25 more seats as compared to the current EU Parliament, the Europe of Freedom and Direct Democracy with 4 seats and the European Conservatives and Reformists with 10 new seats.
One of the reasons behind the projected increase of seats for extreme parties could be the increased distrust in national political actors and the desire of citizens to punish their usually mainstream governments for the unfulfilled promises and unsuccessful policies. Besides this anti-vote strategy, EU elections are usually perceived as secondary and not as important as national elections both by national politicians and the moderate voter. As a result, extreme parties see the EU elections as a window of opportunity and mobilize themselves and their supporters to participate in the elections. In addition, the projected decreasing power of pro-European political groups within the EP further enables parties situated on the extremes of the political spectrum to increase their influence on EU level.
Changes in the Grand Coalition
The projected success of the extreme parties will likely change the traditional dynamics in the European Parliament. Party competition on EU level is now dominated by a division between the mainstream and the extreme parties, or in other words, pro-European vs. Euro-sceptic parties as the traditional left-right cleavage has lost ground. Until now EP election results have been in favor of the mainstream parties, enabling the European People’s Party (EPP) and the Socialist and Democrats (S&D) to form the so-called Grand Coalition holding the majority of seats. In addition to the extreme parties gaining power, the predictions that the UK would not be represented in the new parliament pointed out that without the UK the S&D would lose a great number of seats.
Although it was recently announced that the UK would be represented in the European Parliament, other factors would contribute to the dissolution of the Grand Coalition. Projections note that the S&D would lose a majority of seats as the socialist continue to lose their ground on national level across EU member states, the most vivid examples being France, Germany and the Netherlands. Another phenomenon that may contribute to the weakening of the pro-European coalition could be the newly established by the ex UKIP leader Nigel Farage BREXIT PARTY aimed to compete at the new EU Parliament elections and to promote Euro-sceptic values on EU level.
Higher influence on nationalistic parties on EU level, on the other hand, will lead to changes in the EU agenda and the dynamics behind the decision-making processes. If the populists gain more ground than the pro-EU parties, decisions taken in the EP will favor national sovereignty, rather than joint integration. As a result, prospective enlargement as well as discussions on the topic of immigration will be blocked. This could lead to a more divided union, creating an opportunity for the old member states to take on multiple-speed political and economic initiatives and leave the euro-sceptic groups behind.
How can the EU improve its legitimacy?
I believe that the EU should promote its core values more actively, especially by campaigns targeting young people as they are the entities that benefit the most from the EU integration process. As a student, I was impressed by the idea behind the ‘This time I am voting’ EU initiative which aims to popularise the upcoming EP elections among the youth. Being part of the targeted group, I believe that the initiative can be more successful if it is advertised on a bigger scale. The EU should continue popularising videos, pictures and competitions that not only incentives young people to vote, but also explain the benefits behind being an active EU citizen.
In addition, more accessible information channels should be developed in order to inform the citizens of EU member states about the activities of the EU as well as its positive implications for them and their countries. Furthermore, the EU should focus on emphasizing the importance of the EP elections, and explain how EU and national level issues are linked. In addition, EU institutions should work with the member states to ensure better transparency as well as more policies that benefit European citizens, in order to prevent public distrust and dissatisfaction with the state. As a result, anti-establishment parties will lose ground on national level and their supporters will switch to more pro-EU attitudes. Such measures can change the perception of the EU elections as ‘second order’ elections, increase the overall turnout and actively engage the EU citizens with the affairs of the union.